Leading aviation charter broker Air Partner began a transformation in 2014 that would profoundly change the company. A long-term strategy that places the customer first is not only reshaping its Private Jets business, but has also led it into aviation safety. That focus could well have an impact on the charter industry in years to come.

Organic growth and self-improvement are at the heart of Air Partner’s long-term strategy. The results of executing this strategy began to emerge in 2016 with stronger, steadier earnings less prone to the volatility of the charter business. How? By retaining loyal customers – and winning new ones – by focusing on their needs and exceeding their expectations, says Air Partner CEO Mark Briffa.

“Customer First increased our customer retention rate, increased loyalty and allowed us to target specific markets,” he says.

“We continue to look at apps and portals but we have no intention to become an online brokering service. We do, however look at how to transition those technologies into our much more of a concierge service,” Briffa adds. “Its all about understanding customer needs, not telling them their perceived needs.”

The drive to exceed expectations in every function of Air Partner has changed the culture of the company, and the attitude of everyone working there. It wasn’t long before the spotlight shone on safety; not that customers weren’t safe flying on operators used by Air Partner, but could their expectations of safety be exceeded?

In 2015 Air Partner acquired the leading aviation safety consultancy Baines Simmons, an advisor to more than 750 aviation organizations and more than 40 aviation authorities, and which helped develop the skills and expertise of more than 120,000 aviation professionals. It specializes in aviation regulation, compliance and safety management.

Then, last December, Air Partner acquired Clockwork Research, a leading fatigue risk management consultancy that uses systems and models to measure, monitor and reduce fatigue in pilots and other key personnel, ensuring they get the necessary sleep to carry out their tasks effectively and safely.

Now Air Partner has a Consulting & Training division, establishing it as an aviation services company. In 2016 it contributed 10%, or some $650,000, of Air Partner’s profits.

Briffa says knowledge from Consulting & Training can be applied throughout Air Partner, and to its Private Jet business.

“We believe our Customer First strategy, which delivers an unrivalled level of service, particularly for JetCard, together with our financial stability, transparency and security, means we have a unique proposition. We have some exciting initiatives under way which we believe will further extend our services in this area and deliver exceptional services to our customers,” he says. And that should result in further growth in business.

“But we fundamentally believe – and our customers seem to agree – that until technological capabilities have further developed, complex travel scheduling is better handled by people rather than machines.

Our Customer First program remains pivotal to our operations and we believe it accounts for a large proportion of our continuing success.”

Indeed, JetCard had a record 2016 with a 41% increase in utilization and the number of cards rising to 222.

Air Partner’s JetCard has been ranked top in several categories over the last couple of years by independent aviation consultant Conklin & de Decker. That, says Briffa, is the result of JetCard featuring no shelf life until used, no add-on charges such as fuel, catering or taxiing, and the ability for a customer to get a refund if not satisfied.

“We will continue to evolve this product in the years ahead to reflect the lifestyle needs of our customers,” Briffa says.

Offering a hint of things to come, Briffa notes that the UK (and many other) aviation authorities do not regulate business aviation as intensely as commercial aviation, leaving much to self-regulation. Safety auditors such as Wyvern and Argus offer stamps of approval, but their inspections are thought by many to be “looking in the rear view mirror.” There is scope, Briffa believes, for pro-active standards that look ahead – and who better to help develop them than Air Partner’s aviation services business.

Air Partner hasn’t launched a formal accreditation yet. “We’re extremely busy developing it though it is still in the embryonic stage,” Briffa says. “It will help and assist operators to perform better [and] it will create a standard that is currently missing today.”